RCEP draft moots tough curbs on cheap medicines

A leaked chapter of the draft Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement being negotiated by 16 countries — 10 member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and 6 other countries that have Free Trade Agreements with the ASEAN — reveals that the trade pact in its current form could reduce access to affordable medicines in many developing countries.

The chapter on Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) is part of an October 2015 draft of the RCEP agreement. As The Hindu reported on April 20, India has opposed some damaging proposals initiated by the RCEP members, particularly Japan and Korea, involving patent extensions, restrictive rules on copyright exceptions, and other anti-consumer measures.

Disclosing the draft document, U.S.-based NGO, Knowledge Ecology International Director James Love on Tuesday said, “Some member countries, who are part of both the TPP [the U.S.-led Trans Pacific Partnership] and the RCEP, are trying to push for the TPP standards in RCEP. Japan and Korea are working to introduce some of the worst ideas from the ACTA (Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement), the TPP and other trade agreements in the RCEP chapter on Intellectual Property. There are proposals for patent extensions, restrictive rules on exceptions to copyright, and dozens of other anti-consumer measures, illustrating the power of rights-holder groups to use secret trade negotiations to influence democratic decisions that impact access to knowledge, the freedom to innovate and the right to health in negative ways.”

The humanitarian aid organisation Médecins Sans Frontières’(MSF) is particularly concerned about a proposal by Japan and Korea demanding patent term extension — from the current 20 years by an additional five years — in ASEAN countries that are not party to the TPP.

TRIPS plus

From India’s point of view, the draft proposals will compel governments to commit to newer Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights provisions like TRIPS plus — including the Patent Law Treaty (Geneva, 2000), which involve harmonisation in the examination of patent applications and requirements of patentability.

“Countries like India have, in the past, resisted pressure to sign the patents treaty as it can curtail the flexibility under the Indian system to address key public policy issues such as ever greening. If these terms are accepted, it would limit access to affordable medicines for people in Indonesia, Thailand, Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who depend on Indian generics,” said Leena Menghaney, South Asia head of MSF’s access campaign.

The Least Developed Countries (LDCs) are concerned at the move to withdraw the exemption granted under the TRIPS to implement intellectual property laws until 2033. “While it was previously agreed to exempt LDCs like Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos from implementing the IP laws till 2033, Article 5.7 of the draft of the text withdraws the exemption,” Ms. Menghaney added.

The next round of talks will take place in Perth, Australia, between April 23 and 29.

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Printable version | Sep 27, 2021 5:12:36 AM |

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